Conferences are a great way to enhance or learn new skills and to network. Ensuring a productive conference requires some planning and survival tips. As a conference veteran, here are some tips I employ.
Set Expectations. Even if you plan to respond to emails while you are at the conference, it’s a good idea to set your out-of-office response to manage expectations. I also discuss with my team in advance when I’m likely to respond to queries and how to best reach me in an emergency.
Bring Tools. Whether you write in a notebook or type on a laptop, you don’t want to forget to bring them. I always bring pens and at least one highlighter, which helps me note important names, points in my notes or workshops in the program that I don’t want to forget or miss. I like to bring an envelope or pouch, which I find handy for storing receipts, business cards and other relevant materials. Of course, you can also take a photo of the receipts with your phone.
Don’t forget your power cords. I keep a second cord for each device in a small tote bag that I keep with my luggage. That way I’m not scrambling to find the cords. While more hotels are now offering mini docking stations with USB ports, too many still don’t so I bring a mini multi-prong adapter for the hotel room. I can plug in two devices and two USB cables and keep my mobiles, Fitbit and laptop charged. And, of course, don’t forget your business cards.
Choose Wisely. At most conferences, there are competing sessions. Take the time to review not only the topic, but also the presenter’s bio to ensure it aligns with what you want to hear. Look at all the sessions and events to make sure you’re attending sessions on a range of topics and skills. And if you are in a session that isn’t what you expected, it’s okay to pop out and go to a different one.
Make Connections (Ahead of Time). Conferences are a time to meet new people and to build on the relationships you already have. Don’t arrive at the conference and run around trying to meet as many people as you can and don’t stalk a speaker. Instead, reach out in advance and schedule a time to meet. I do this frequently when there is a speaker whom I’d like to interview. I email them in advance and we schedule a time and location for a brief conversation. It reduces stress and allows for a meaningful interaction. During conferences I try to never eat a meal with the same group of people. I want to reconnect with as many colleagues as possible.
Digitally Engage. Follow the conference hashtag and make sure you’re tagging your tweets and Instagrams properly. You can monitor the hashtag throughout the conference to learn what others think about the speakers and topics. If a speaker mentions a resource, someone likely will tweet the resource and how to find it, which is always helpful. Social media also is a way to acknowledge great speakers, conference staff and hotel staff. Everyone enjoys a “Job well done!”
Digitally Disengage. I’ve already noted ways to digitally engage, but it’s also okay to disengage. You don’t need to stay on top of every email. Make time to put your smartphone away and introduce yourself to other attendees while you are waiting for a session to begin or during lunch. Sometimes we gain just as much from striking up a face-to-face conversation as we do from the workshops.
Stay Healthy. Conferences run on their own schedule, which may not coincide with your internal clock. Keep your energy level high by staying hydrated (always carry your own bottle of water) and snacking on items such as nuts, a protein bar or a piece of fruit. While it’s fun to socialize in the evenings, if you are feeling run down, skip a night of networking and get some zzz’s so you are ready for the next day. And don’t feel guilty if you skip a session for a power nap.
Pay It Forward. You will learn new information and be inspired at conferences. Why not share what you learned with your colleagues? That’s what my colleagues did when they returned from a conference. They created a brief PowerPoint presentation with their key takeaways from the conference. Each one also provided their key learnings, which was invaluable since they are at different points in their careers. I learned a few new things and was reminded of a few other points.
One of the things I’ve been doing when I return is designing a document that includes information, inspiration and random facts. I display it on my bulletin board where it provides inspiration and reminders throughout the year.